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Okay, as promised, what I've been taught about cast iron. First, some extolling of virtues:
- the absolute CHEAPEST non stick cookware you can buy that is actually WORTH anything (don't get me started on TFAL)
- Just as easy to care for as other pots and pans, trust me
- for vegetarians, the absolute simplest way to add trace iron to your cooking, and since you generally deal with non-heme iron, abundance is a neccessity.
- Useful for home defense or marital spats. (oh, just joking!)

So, you go to your local cookstore (I hope not), or outlet mall (even better, once saw a set of cast iron skillets, three in 8", 12" and 14" (I think) at a chicago cutlery outlet mall near me for 15 dollars! Three kickin' skillets for 15 bucks!), or yard sale (don't count on it, but remember, short of neuro toxins (yes, I had to throw one of my precious pans out because the then beloved sprayed roach spray all over it in order to kill a roach, why he didn't just use the pan to splat the sucker, I'll never know) ANYTHING can pretty much be cleaned out of a good cast iron pan, even if it means a lot of smoke (500 degree oven for several hours takes care of most stuff, especially if you leave a layer of salt in there) but I digress.

Once you have aquired your dull, supremely heavy and stolid looking pan, immediatly proceed to the kitchen sink. You are going to give your pan a nice once over in hot soapy water. Rinse it well and towel dry it, please don't leave it to air dry, iron rusts. Keep in mind this should be the *only* time you use soap on it. Soap does not disinfect dishes (read the labels, even disinfectant soaps are on your hands), it just helps remove stuck dried on food particles. There wont be any stuck on food particles on your pan. Trust me. <evil grin>. So don't freak out. Pour a good 1/4 inch of oil into your now squeaky clean and dried pan. Lard is best, but as a vegetarian I can't recommend it. Besides, you don't need to go out and buy lard to season your skillet. Soybean oil works just as well. Soybean/corn oil is okay (if you don't know what you have and it say "vegetable oil" ten to one says its soybean.) do not use your olive oil, especially not your fourty dollars a bottle olive oil, you'll just break my heart. Besides, it's smoke tempertaure is way too low for what we're doing.

So, you've got your oil in your pan, now, two options, one, turn the stove on under it (once again, better with gas, but everything is), maybe medium. You're trying to get it very hot, but boiling oil right off the bat is bad for your skin. Bring it up slowly, and as it gets near boiling, lower the temp. Keep this going for as long as you can stand it, occasionally stirring to make sure the sides and everything are coated. (please do not slop oil over the sides, it burns really really well, and the whole pan will go up and then you have to start all over again once you've rebuilt your kitchen). Pour out the oil (preferably into a coffee can and not down the drain, especially if you have plastic pipes) and wipe down the pan with a paper towel once it has cooled. Ta da! You have a seasoned skillet.

alternativly, do the heating in an oven, start off at 400 degrees, and be sure to pull it out and stir now and again, make sure it's not boiling and spattering up your oven.

Now, you have a seasoned skillet! Wasn't so hard or scary, eh? <chuckle> Told ya to trust me. But, I hear you say (I hope it's you, hate to think I'm talking to myself) how do I take care of it? What was up with the no soap gig earlier? True. Think about it. Soap is usually detergent, which is molecularly predisposed to attaching itself to grease molecules. Put soap in that pan and all the oil you've just gone to all that trouble to force into the iron pan will come out, and you are back to regular old pain in the butt non seasoned iron. After you've cooked with your pan rinse it out in VERY hot water. We're talking hot enough that you don't really want to get your hands in it. This is what's sterilizing your pan, wipe it off with a dish rag ( oh okay you wimp, turn the temperature down if you must) to loosen all the food bits and rinse again in that hottest water you can stand. Towel dry if you can stand it (since iron rusts), hang it back up again, and its ready to go for next time. I've learned that my cast iron stuff never has time to sit for long, I use it for everything. And as long as you're adding a little oil whenever you cook, you reseason as you go. These pans will be handed down to your great grandchildren without much trouble, and they'll probably love them too.

A few caveats. Cast iron really was intended for open woodfire cooking, so it's really durable. However, it is iron, so it is relatively reactive. I've heard people say to never cook acid foods, like tomatos in cast iron, since the acid will eat through the pan. I scoff at that with one warning. Feel free to cook tomatos, just wash your pan as immediatly as possible afterwards. No, I don't mean start scrubbing (which you shouldn't have to do if it's seasoned) when your honey is waiting for the romatic pasta dinner you just cooked up, I mean rinse it off well and at least let the hot water soak there until you can get to it later that night. Other stuff isn't so bad to leave sitting, but anything acid, you're taking you chances.

A further note, if someone you know has given up on their cast iron pan because of tomato damage and you're feeling explotive, take it off their hands, buy yourself some steel wool and disregard all I said about scrubbing. Iron is soft enough that you can literally scrub a new surface onto it if you want. Just keep scrubbing and rinsing until it looks smooth and even, then reseason as above. Tell everyone you found it at a yard sale for 20 cents or something. Better yet, tell them you paid 200 dollars for it, but you can get them one for 150... <grin>
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Great little artical!! Love cast iron. You can pick them up pretty cheaply at garage/yard sales and even outdoor antique sales. Picked up a wonderful dutch oven we have used for camping for years. My mom taught me to place them on a stove burner to dry them (after wiping with a towel). But don't overdue it!! Just a minute or to to drive off the moisture. To season, I wipe the inside with a heavy coat of oil; let it sit for 15-30 minutes;wipe again. Leave a thick coat on the inside but not puddles in the bottom. Into the oven at 350 for 60-90 minutes and presto...
Oh, and I definitely agree...You can cook ANYTHING.
With a flat one, (no sides,just a tiny lip) that's right, pancakes or potato pancakes, crabcakes,etc. The skillet, everything from fried chicken to...well, use your imagination. And the dutch oven, Hotdishes, pies, peach cobbler, beans & weenies, There's no end.
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DigitalDurga,

That was one of the most interesting and funny posts on pans I've ever read!

LOL!

Thanks!

Tony
...but I still am...

Off2Aruba
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That was one of the most interesting and funny posts on pans I've ever read!

Amen, Tony! I've been emailing to encourage The Digital One to write a cookbook or memoir or anything ever since she did the bit on beer bread over in LBYM (how to treat yeastie beasties in one easy lesson). I think we could all use something along the lines of "The Basics and Waaaaaaay Beyond."


Reb

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My spouse's great-aunt (from Alabama) used to say of her beloved cast-iron skillet in which she made the best cornbread: "If you don't never wash it, it won't never stick."

Trevar
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For those of us who don't have kithens big enough to hang Cast iron. Spray a light layer of Vegetable oil spray (Pam, Mazola, etc.) and store on the top layer/shelf of a gas oven. That where I leaned to keep mine.

Also, as to the value of a cast iron skillet I know three sisters who have not spoken to each other over a cast iron skillet and Dutch oven, that belonged to their mother, for 23 years.

Angela
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Also, as to the value of a cast iron skillet I know three sisters who have not spoken to each other over a cast iron skillet and Dutch oven, that belonged to their mother, for 23 years.

Ahhh, but methinks there's one sister who's happier than the other two. ;)

But who knows. Maybe one day that will all pan out.

Tony
...but I still am...

Off2Aruba
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Great little guide to the care and feeding of cast iron!

And if the food is REALLY crusted on the pan, you can put half an inch of water in the pan, set it on the heat and let it boil for a couple of minutes (but don't let it boil dry) and you can usually scrape off the stubborn stuff with a spatula before proceeding to rinse and wipe as outlined so well.

I also like to dry my pans by putting them on the heat for a moment so that all the moisture evaporates.

--Ann
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I also like to dry my pans by putting them on the heat for a moment so that all the moisture evaporates
--Ann


I thought I said that.
--j
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DigitalDurga:

I've been looking for a coupla cast iron pieces. I liked your idea about yard sales, but just don't have the time. I'm looking for a covered pot - one that would fit on the large burner of an electric range (I know, I like gas best too).
I once saw a cast iron tea-pot-looking thing that I would like.
It dawned on me that there is probably a company on-line that has all this stuff and more.
Then it dawned on me that some of you guys probably know their site address.
Any help appreciated.

Mike
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Mike:
I think places like K-Mart and the like typically stock cast iron stuff. Anybody confirm or deny?

Raggmopp
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Raggmopp:

Thanks for the suggestion. If you have a minute, though, look at this site I found -- you won't Believe the prices!!!

http://www.panman.com/sale.html

mike
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Here's some really neat-looking (round belly) covered pots (flat-bottomed & with legs) and lots of other cast-iron stuff and lots of places to buy it.
Looks like reasonable prices, too.

http://www.actionafrica.com/castironpots.html#flat-potjie

mike
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Mike,

Looks like you found the sites I was browsing. The panman's prices are what they are because he's selling collectible iron pots. There is a lot of collector interest in the older pots, especially by certain makers like Griswold. There are pots that are more desirable than others and their prices are dear. Unusual shapes and sizes command higher prices, too. You can definitely find reasonably priced pots elsewhere.


Patti
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mikefar,

From what I've seen, the newer ones are just not the same quality as the old ones. If you don't have time for yard sales (where you will definitely get the best price) try small antique stores. They will be somewhere on the floor, usually. Prices shouldn't be too bad because, surprisingly, people nowdays want the instant gratification of non-stick....go figure.

John
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Bradlees sells stock cast iron cookware. Don't know what the prices are. I know they sell cast iron fry pans.

Pat
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Good morning!! Twenty-some years ago, I found cast-iron at resale shops like Goodwill, St. Vincent dePaul, Veteran's Village, etc. Prices: great! Might still be a good place to look.
Garage sales and especially estate sales might also be good sources. I wish I had time to go to some, too!!

Consignment shops and resale shops for not-for-profit organizations (symphony, scholarship orgs., schools) are also great to check out: they tend to get better quality stuff than Goodwill, et al.
Oooops, think I'm straying into LBYM territory. Sorry gang!
Have a great 4th of July, stay cool, eat well!
Take care,
p.j.
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Good afternoon, friends: WARNING: somewhat OT!!

Coincidence is a way of life some days. Went out at lunch to Jiffy Lube for oil change (to antique Civic). Beloved and children spotted me pulling in from where they were at gas station across the street. Came to Jiffy Lube to suprise me when I walked inside. We wound up getting both cars serviced at the same time. Alas, no fleet discount, just AAA.

Then I stopped at my favorite consignment shop to pick up the set of dishes I'd bought a couple of days ago. There, on the steps inside, were the following, which had just been put out on the floor. Jotted down the info to share with you all:
1. Griswold muffin pan for 11 muffins: $45.00!
2. Griswold #9 roaster with lid: $95.00!
3. Wagner roaster/baster with lid: $95.00!
4. WagnerWare Griddle (Sidney -0-): $65.00!

No I didn't buy 'em! Yikes! The griddle was a little rusty. The muffin pan was the most interesting looking. Think I will go home, dig out my old griddle, and determine its ancestry!
Have a great 4th!
p.j.
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John:

the newer ones are just not the same quality ...
...try small antique stores.


After reading your post, I decided to go by two antique stores near here. Now I am LOADED DOWN with cast iron cookware. It's all pretty old but in good shape.

One three-legged covered pot was used as a planter!

Thanks for the suggestions everyone!

Mike
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mikefar,

Congrats on the find. The "Planter" with the three legs is probably what is known as a Dutch Oven. The lid should have a curled up lip around it. The legs keep it off the ground because you set it on a layer of coals. The lip on the top keeps the charcoal from rolling off. Charcoal top and bottom....OVEN.

Enjoy and have a great 4th!

john
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The advice on how to season (make stick-free) cast iron pans is good. Best fat would be peanut oil. It also works on thin blue steel and aluminum pans the same way. Restaurants do not wash their omelette pans. They do not even wet them, but wipe out any food stuck to them using coarse salt and paper towel. They reseason them periodically as needed.

I have just returned from a mall in Michigan and have seen an outlet store of Bass Pro Shops. They had a tremendous selection of cast iron pots, cake molds and fry pans there. If you do not have such store near you, they have catalog sales also.

Milos.
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Target (Tar-je) stocks lots of cast iron cookware. Just saw tons (literally!) of it there yesterday.

Trevar
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Restaurants do not wash their omelette pans. They do not even wet them.

"If you don't never wash it, it won't never stick."

Trevar
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Perhaps Army surplus stores...

Zen
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The only good thing about a burst water pipe under the kitchen sink and the resulting flood that happened last night is that it forced me to clean out cupboards and pantries that should long ago have been cleaned out. I found many things that I had totally forgotten were part of my net worth. Among them -- two old but still quite good cast iron frying pans -- one about 7-8" in diameter and the other about 10-12" in diameter (sorry -- too comfortable to get up and measure them at the moment). They are a bit rusty but that could easily be fixed. If anyone wants to pay the postage, I'll be happy to ship them to you (no charge for the pans, just the exact amount of the shipping by U.S. Mail -- too hard to get to the nearest UPS from where I live).

Trevar
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<looks around wide eyed for a moment> <drops face into hands, mumblings of "I'm so ashamed>

<looks up> Wow. Look what I started. Hi guys. <waves timidly> Wow. I got a job that doesn't involve eight hours of web surfing and managed to miss all this wonderful chaos. ;} I come back and there's two pages of replies to my little zaniness! <laughter> Man. I feel terrible that it has taken me this long to get back here. I missed my Fools. ;}

Hmm.. My favorite place to buy cast iron is still the outlet malls that are nearish to me. Chicago cutlery in particular has some nicely priced sets that seemed to be fairly good quality. I have some problems with the idea of buying by mail and online, simply because good cast iron is <HEAVY> as I assume everyone figured out by all the references to loaded down and tons. ;} I think better online prices are outweighed <groan, sorry Trevar> by the cost of shipping.
My personal opinion.

Ziegezunt - Nothing wrong with the LBYM attitude, just remember, we eat to live, and I chose to live well. ;}

Reb - Your emails have had an effect. I've actually been taking an hour or so (during lunch to scribble, in my head almost constantly) to get together exactly what I"d like to see in a cookbook. I've also for the past month or so been checking cookbooks out of the library and reading them to see how others have solved the problems I'm stuck on. I don't think it'll be anything much, but I do think I"m at least going to write all of this stuff I know out, if only to get it straight! ;} (and to figure out what I still need to learn). So, it's entirely possible I'll have some sort of strange "teaching book" (since I don't really do recipes very much) sometime in the future. <shrug> Hey, if enough people email me to say they want a copy, I might even think of putting it together in a nicer format than stapled printout. ;}

We'll see. Once again, wow. I love this board. You guys and gals are so sincerely amazing.

And hey, are there any other topics you'd like me to pontificate on? <chuckle>

DigitalDurga
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Well, Ms.Durga, ma'am. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance! I hunted down your original post, and I must say I agree very nearly with everything you said about the care & maintenance of cast iron!

You mentioned something about Yard Sales. Forget that! Go to the resale stores! Every time I go into a resale store, there's cast iron! So much in fact, that from time to time, I make a careful accounting of what it is I have and what it is I want, just so I don't end up with another 6" skillet, griddle or cornstick pan. haha

My favorite piece, I think, is my cast iron "dutch oven". So many ways to use that thing!

We go camping quite a bit, my husband and I. I swear half our gear weight is cast iron. (No, we don't go hike-camping. We go car camping. But hey, what do you expect? We're car loving 'Mericans in a dual career household. hehe)

The one tidbit I would add to your care instructions is to *occassionally* wipe down the entire piece with a paper-towel or napkin with a bit of oil on it, especially if its a piece that you don't use often and if you live in an area with high humidity (I live right on the California coast). I've taken pieces out of the back of the cupboard that haven't seen the light of day for some time, only to find the thing practically covered with a light layer of rust. Once I adopted this tact, the rust stopped.

I've never seen acid damage on any of my pieces, that I'm aware of... and I do cook tomatoes in my cast iron quite regularly. I even use <gasp> Lemon Juice! I am rather fanatical about rinsing my cast iron out immediately after cooking, so maybe that's why. Then, after I towel dry it, I place it back on the burner (which is off), let it sit there while we eat. As I have an electric stove, the burner is still very warm and completes the drying process completely.

One more thing. I seem to recall that a study was done that addressed the issue of the dietary iron. If memory serves, the report stated that unless the food IS acid-containing that the iron that may find its way into the food is negligible and even unusable by your body.

Sincerely yours,
- Tera.
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